(Jessica Gel’s article appeared in the Los Angeles Times, 8/24; Photo: Johnny Clark, artistic director of VS. Theatre Company, left, and Circle X Theatre Co.’s Tim Wright on the stage of their new show, “Stand Up if You’re Here Tonight” on Aug. 19 at Atwater Village Theatre. They are testing the waters with an indoor show in the middle of a Delta surge.) 

On the night before Independent Shakespeare Co. was to stage its press preview for “The Tempest,” vandals snuck onto the Griffith Park set and destroyed it. They smashed the lights and cut all the cables, causing about $15,000 in damage.

Artistic Director David Melville got a call from the city the following morning and rushed to the site of the Griffith Park Free Shakespeare Festival. With the aid of volunteers, the set was resurrected and the show went on that evening — the first live performance the company pulled off in 18 months.

To riff on a viral meme about this perilous new phase of the pandemic: If the August opening of “The Tempest” represented the hopes, dreams and grand plans of L.A.’s small theater companies in the spring and early summer, when vaccinations soared and COVID-19 infections plummeted, then the park vandals represented the Delta variant.

Taking that analogy further: Melville’s stamina in the face of disaster, and the dozens of patrons who pitched in the money to cover losses from the incident, illustrate the tenacious mindset of vulnerable nonprofit theaters as Delta rampages across the country.

And so the question looms: How much longer can these companies stay afloat financially? With pandemic funding drying up, 99-seat theaters are scrambling to stay on track with reopenings that were planned during better days.

Rising infections in L.A. forced Independent Shakespeare Co. to work in tandem with the city to cap the park audience at 250.

In normal times the company would stage two festival shows over 10 or 11 weeks, often attracting more than 1,000 people a night and earning about $150,000 in donations. In the summer of Delta, ISC is staging one show for five weeks, and Melville estimates the effort will generate about $40,000 to $45,000 in donations.

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